Festival line ups have become the topic of enormous debate in the past few years. Perhaps the pinnacle of the music pyramid, they’ve come to reflect some of the more staid, traditional, and small-c conservative aspects of the music industry. The failings are almost too obvious to point out – more often than not, festivals are viewed as too white, too male, too hetero, and too damn predictable.
Reading and Leeds emerged from its post-pandemic slumber back in August, with a bill dominated by old favourites – Liam Gallagher, for example, or Post Malone, or Biffy Clyro, or Catfish & The Bottlemen. Perhaps reflecting the fractured nature of pandemic touring, Reading and Leeds opted for the safe over the exciting.
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This time round, though, it seems that Reading and Leeds have definitely received the memo, and acted on it. Replicating its twin main stage format, the festival has just announced six headliners, finding the balance between fan-pleasing oldies – a returning Arctic Monkeys, reformed rap metal incendiaries Rage Against The Machine – and something that introduces the element of the new to their audience. So, fans can expect pop trailblazer Halsey, rap heroine Megan Thee Stallion, and BRIT winner Dave, with bring me the horizon completing the headline septet.
It’s a bold opening gambit. Arguably the most diverse headline announcement Reading and Leeds have made for some considerable time, it’s reflective of the environment we’re now in – the teenage kids who trek to the twin-site festival can’t be pigeonholed, finding it entirely natural to listen to the literate UK rap of Dave and the pop-edged metal freakery of bring me the horizon.
Indeed, looking through the comments on social media, it seems to have gone down remarkably well. Yes, there’s some negativity – it’s the Reading and Leeds announce fer chrissakes, no one is ever entirely happy – but if you discount the 45 year old ne-er-do-wells who long for another Nirvana set then the feedback has been incredibly positive.
“Best line up in years,” wrote one fan, while a slew of Arctic Monkeys stans rejoiced at their return to UK festivals – the band last headlined Reading and Leeds back in 2014. “Bring Me The Horizon and Arctic Monkeys on the same day?” wrote one punter. “Yeah, I’ll see you in fucking Reading”.
In some ways, the announce is a riposte to the festival’s own recent history. Pre-pandemic Reading and Leeds faced huge criticism for failing to move with the times, judging to be – as the Independent once put it – “on the wrong side of history”. In 2018 founder Melvin Benn refuted allegations that opportunities for non-male musicians didn’t exist at the mammoth festival, stating: “it’s never been about the gender of the band, it’s been about the quality of the band”.
At the time he made those comments, it felt as though Reading and Leeds were almost becoming blind to the changing landscape around them. In 2017, for example, the festival booked 57 male acts and one woman – a truly shocking statistic. With the Keychange organising affecting grassroots change, and with Primavera Sound organising a 50/50 gender split on their line with minimal fuss, questions were asked of UK giants to follow suit. Glastonbury boss Emily Eavis – herself a prominent female voice in an often male dominated industry - wisely commented: “unless you consciously do that and change the minds of the bookers, then it will just roll out in the same way that it has done for years.”
Now it seems that those minds have – finally – been changed. As recently as 2017 it would have been unthinkable to see Megan Thee Stallion and Halsey headline Reading and Leeds, yet they’ll do exactly that next summer, alongside long-time festival favourites Arctic Monkeys and bring me the horixon. Judging by today’s announcement, it seems as though long sought after change has finally come to Reading and Leeds – long may it last.
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